June 23, 2017

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Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Thoughts on PMI Global Conference 2016

By Louise Worsley, a non-US attendee

The Project Management Institute Global Congress in North America is big!

PMI Global Conference 2016Nearly 3,000 attendees from 67 countries representing some 1,368 organisations.

Just to give you a feel – the European equivalent PMI Congress in Barcelona attracted some 100’s of attendees.  And at other related events; the International Institute of Business Analysts had 1,400 attendees at their global conference in Las Vegas (2015,) while the Association for Change Management Professional achieved just 1,100 attendees at their 2016 global conference in Dallas, Texas.

The brief initial survey, conducted via the excellent conference PMI App, suggests that attendees valued the learning from the sessions and the networking almost equally.  In speaking with delegates, I found that a big incentive for attendance was to get PMI PDU points quickly and efficiently.  All delegate attendance in sessions was recorded, and within weeks of the congress, it was added to attendees PDU records.

Picking the ‘good’ sessions is important

Over 100 sessions were available over the three days, divided into the three streams of ‘leadership’, ‘technical’ and ‘strategic and business management’.  Given the varying length of the sessions (ranging from 1 hours to 1.5 hours) and the scheduling approach, the maximum number of session you could attend over the three days was about 9, plus the three keynote sessions.  Attending the ‘good‘ sessions was thus pretty important, but as I heard some delegates comment – the choice process was a ‘bit hit and miss’.  Popular sessions filled up quickly and places in the room were limited.   By the second day, wise delegates had adopted the habit of simply getting to their preferred sessions very early.

Agile and soft skills attract audiences

Although the actual numbers and overall feedback have not been released yet, my feeling is that the big attractions were the Agile sessions (10 sessions) and the streams in leadership around communications and the soft skills.  Sessions like Sherri Thomas, speaking on “Career Stories for Project Managers” inspired comments on Twitter (#PMIcongress) with her statement:

“Make connections with those who inspire you, teach you new things, or promote your ideas.” 

Lessons and language from the keynotes

PMI Global Conference 2016Perhaps the most discussed sessions were the keynotes.  Not surprisingly given the San Diego venue (the home of the USS Midway and Top Gun) there was a military theme to the first session, with the ‘Afterburner’ consultancy team, made up largely of ex-military aviators.  This was an upbeat and inspiring discussion of project management using a military flying metaphor, and had some great linguistic take-aways.

  • Task saturation leads to mistakes
  • Project managers need a bias towards action
  • Don’t wait for the perfect
  • We’re drowning in data but starving for information

For me, the highlight of the conference was the keynote presentation by the Canadian, Sue Gardner –  a former executive at Wikimedia; and named one of the most powerful women by Forbes.  Her statement:

PMI Global congress 2016“Good project managers don’t expect other people to adapt to them.” clearly caught the attention of a number of Twitter users.

She argued that disruptive business models such as Itunes, Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, Bitcoin have changed the ways we listen, ride, stay, buy and pay.  As she puts it “software is eating the world” and IT is increasingly moving from a staff function to a line function, where it directly contributes to the strategic value of the business.

Following this, she poses her challenge: “How can large organisations that are trapped between the ‘sunrise stages’ and ‘sunset stages’ transform themselves to provide new disruptive business model innovation?”

Thinking of attending the next Congress?

PMI Global Congress 2016The 2017 PMI Global Congress is in Chicago.  Not quite such a glamorous venue as San Diego, and I suspect this may affect the numbers attending.

Interestingly, this will now be known as the PMI Global Congress (dropping the title North America) which does beg the question – are the European global congress being abandoned, or are they no longer ‘global’?

I won’t attend next year.  I think one global Congress every 3-5 years is probably enough.  Also, I find that hearing local stories and meeting local contacts is possibly more valuable, and hence I would prioritise the South Africa and Southern hemisphere conference in Australia and New Zealand.

Should you be thinking of attending the Congress in Chicago, here are my suggestions:

  • Research the speakers and sessions well beforehand. Of the five sessions I managed to attend (I was also speaking at the event)  only two of them were really valuable.  I didn’t pick the right sessions.  Partly this was because I just didn’t know the names.  Sherri Thomas, for example, is clearly well known in America for her book “Bounce back” and articles in the Huffington Post.  If I had found this out before hand…
  • Make connections before the Congress and seek them out once there. The PMI App provides the names of all the attendee at the Congress, but in most cases, this does not include the company and nationality information.  I was particularly interested in seeking out attendees from the African continent and certain industries.  Bar peering at 3000 name badges – this proved very difficult to achieve.
  • Be prepared to use the conference backchat on both Twitter and the PMI App – this had some really interesting additional information and potentially provides a way to make connections.

And finally, if Chicago is just too far, don’t forget the next PMSA National Conference in Johannesburg, 9-12th November.  I will be there launching my book “Stakeholder-led project management: Changing the way we manage projects” and will be happy to share more experiences from the PMI Congress.

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